Purdue Pharma settlements a window into U.S. opioid crisis
After more than 2,600 lawsuits nationwide involving their role in the opioid epidemic sweeping through the country, Purdue Pharma — the manufacturer of prescription painkiller OxyContin — filed for bankruptcy Sept. 16. In 2017, opioids were responsible for 47,600 of the 70,237 U.S. drug overdose deaths — with more than 28,000 of these opioid-related deaths being attributed to synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl. From 1999 to 2017, more than 400,000 Americans have died from opioid overdoses. The declaration of bankruptcy followed a tentative $10 to $12 billion settlement with 27 states and thousands of cities and counties throughout the nation — with nearly 20 other states rejecting the terms of the settlement. Dr. Richard Blondell, physician and vice chair for addiction medicine at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo, said the company’s heavy marketing downplaying the addictive nature of OxyContin helped start the epidemic. “They promoted this drug heavily,” Blondell said. “I can remember representatives coming around with little bags, pens and clocks. They had a clock that just had 12 on there to remind us to prescribe it every 12 hours. The older physicians said, ‘Boy don’t listen to them. They don’t know what they’re talking about, these are addictive drugs,’ — and it turns out those old, family doctors were right.” Dr. Steven Aks, immersive physician and head of toxicology at Cook County Health, said it’s important to distinguish that there are two “faces” to the current opioid epidemic: pharmaceutical pills and street drugs.